Clock ticking for IT with daylight saving time shift

It may be reminiscent of the days leading up to the Y2K phenomenon, but the IT implications of the early switch to daylight saving time (DST) next month may not be as dreadful as some might think.

Industry analysts say IT administrators need not torture themselves with visions of systems crashing and markets collapsing when most of North America springs forward one hour on March 11 and IT systems are not updated or patched to reflect this time change.

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 decrees that starting this year, DST will kick off on the second Sunday of March, instead of the original first Sunday of April. The change, it is hoped, will save on energy consumption. Canada has decided to follow the U.S. lead in enforcing the DST change.

“The actual risk we run is not as severe as it was with Y2K,” said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont. “There is no risk of systems simply dying; there’s no risk of systems crashing. What it really is, for the most part, is an annoyance that time would be off by an hour.”

However, there are specific sectors that are more sensitive to timing inaccuracies and disruptions than others, Levy said. For instance, a one-hour discrepancy in the books of a financial services institution may render it non-compliant to certain regulations, he explained.

Another analyst believes preparing IT systems for the change won’t be such a big deal.

Implementing necessary changes to IT systems to adhere to the new DST schedule is a “minor problem compared to the big code change required with past issues [such as] Y2K or the Euro conversion,” said Will Cappelli, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Gartner, however, urged companies to take the issue seriously by ensuring their systems are ready for the DST change.

In a statement, the market research firm noted that disruptions related to the new DST schedule might affect calendaring applications, billing software and security programs, as well as travel and trading schedules.

“Significant business damage and liabilities…could occur from applications performing their processing at the incorrect time if organizations do nothing,” said Cappelli.

Patch IT up

Software and hardware systems produced after 2005, or after the Energy Policy Act was passed, should typically be compliant with the new DST change. However, Info-Tech’s Levy recommends that organizations check with vendors to determine if their systems are compliant.

Various large vendors have already issued patches, updates and information to help customers prepare their systems for the DST change.

Microsoft Corp. said the new Vista OS already includes the updated DST rules, but earlier versions of Windows will need to be changed.

For Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, Microsoft will release a single global time-zone update, which will include updates for the new DST time change.

Detailed information on DST-related issues affecting Microsoft products are posted on the company’s Web site.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is offering free patches for its Solaris Unix operating systems, Versions 8, 9 and 10, while patches for earlier versions, 5, 6 and 7 will be available for a fee, the company said.

At least one third-party vendor – Terix Computer Service – has announced the availability of free software to update the DST issues in Sun Solaris 5, 6 and 7, according to the company’s director of sales, Larry Quinn.

IBM Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and BEA Systems Inc. have created special pages on their Web sites where customers can find more details about DST changes for the vendors’ products.

Novell Inc. has updated its ZENworks Patch Management tool to allow customers to determine which patches are right for their organizations in relation to the DST change.

Time is on your side

Although DST is only days away, there is still time for IT administrators to patch their systems to be DST-ready on March 11, said Levy.

A large part of that DST update will be on server and desktop operating systems, which typically govern how time is managed in a particular system, said Levy. Most often, the applications that run on these server and workstation platforms take their time cues from the operating system.

“It’s not like there are a lot of systems to target, but you’ll still want to make sure that you don’t miss any elements along the way,” said the Info-Tech analyst.

First, IT managers need to prepare an inventory of all their systems and the corresponding vendor for those, suggested Levy. The checklist must include all devices and software running on the network, including embedded systems, telephony equipment and handheld devices, he added.

Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., also recommends companies conduct an overall assessment of the potential impact of the DST change. It is also prudent to determine which business processes are time-sensitive; this would help in identifying tools to be updated and product changes to be made.

Go to your vendors to find out what patches are needed to be done on your systems, said Levy. This information can typically be found online, but contact the vendors directly if online information is not available, he added.

He said in a worst-case scenario, be prepared to do the change manually. “Companies will always have the option of simply manually changing the clock on the affected servers, workstations and hardware after the fact. It’s not preferable, but at least it’s doable.”

Related content:

Daylight Saving Time in Canada – changes for 2007

The Energy Policy Act of 2005

Compliance looms over IT security

Changes to Daylight Savings Time in 2007 may affect your databases (DB2, Oracle and others)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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